“You’re the average of the five people you spend most time with” Jim Rohn

Last night I had a catch up on ‘Teams’ with some very good friends – Nat and Joe.  We were reminiscing over work, life and everything; doing the usual comparisons of life today versus when we worked together 25 years ago.  It was during our chat when Nat mentioned a quote I had never before heard – ‘you’re the average of the 5 people you spend most time with’.  This certainly sparked a bit of banter, resulting in the challenge that today’s blog should be on the very topic – so here it is!

Digging around on the oracle of the world wide web it would seem this quote is attributed to the motivational speak Jim Rohn and judging by some of the articles written, has prompted quite a bit of debate.

The basic concept is that we shape our very selves by who and what we know, so the people closest to us have the most significant influence and thus the biggest impact on what we do, how we think and how we lead our lives.  There is a temptation to contemplate our home lives and the people around us, concluding with agreement and a warm fuzzy glow that we are, indeed, the product of insights and behaviours of our loved ones.  But that would be way too easy!  Think back to pre-covid times when we had on a daily basis to exit the safety of our homes, wend our way by bus, bike, train or car to those buildings wherein the working life lies.  Using my trusty calculator (excel spreadsheet) and some dodgy assumptions I estimate we working adults spend almost 50% of our waken hours at work.  So, we need to think of our working environment to consider the impact of this adage.

The split personality Gemini in me is now working overtime.   Am I two people – 50% formed by the people close to me at home and 50% by those at work or, as I have worked at eight different companies, 6.25% per organisation?  As we’re in the lead-up to Christmas I am, of course, being frivolous but there is a more curious point to this discussion. 

It was argued that we are at our most confident, gregarious and outgoing in the false environment of an interview.  We put on a show in order to impress.  But what if we are too good an actor and, upon landing that sought-after job, find ourselves in an environment where the real self really struggles with the new ‘5 people you spend most time with’.  Or, conversely, and as the theory suggests that your new norm becomes reflective of those people you spend time with and that this is not the “real you”.

I think we have all experienced the work phenomenon to a degree – the way that we change to fit in to a new environment and over time adopt that behaviour as part of ourselves.  Or, if the work environment – perhaps as evidenced through culture – is really at odds with who we are, we leave and move to another company.  It does, however, give rise to a range of cognitive biases and work-based theories.  I am particularly mindful of the imposter syndrome and how, through the ratchet effect of seeking ever more challenging roles with different employers it is all too easy to find oneself in a situation where you can feel a fraud among experts.

Similarly, if we seek to work in a firm that displays a particular set of values and the employees believe and, in turn, reflect that thinking, by being the average of the 5 people you spend most with could create an amplification of group-think and potential stymie innovation.  

Ending on a more positive note, it would seem that the increased focus of encouraging diversity in all its forms in the workplace is not only going to be to the benefit of work outcomes.  If we do find ourselves in genuinely diverse working environments in the future then, on the basis of being the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with, maybe we’ll see the added benefit of greater tolerance and acceptance in all aspects of our lives.

Institutional Adviser is taking a break next week so the blogging will pause for a couple of weeks but will be back refreshed and hopeful for 2021! 

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and New Year.

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